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Comeback in full swing

RAYS 7, TWINS 3: Fred McGriff's first homer since return gives him 492 as team's strong play continues.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 1, 2004

MINNEAPOLIS - As the ball soared off Fred McGriff's bat and into the upper deck of the Metrodome in the second inning of the Devil Rays' 7-3 victory Monday, Tino Martinez had two thoughts.

First, he was happy to see his good friend and fellow Tampa native and Jefferson High graduate hit the first home run of his comeback and move to within eight of the milestone 500th.

Second, he wanted to have a small notation on McGriff's Hall of Fame-caliber resume, something that would allow him, in a special way, to be a part of McGriff's ascent to greatness.

"I wanted to hit one in the same game as him," Martinez said.

McGriff, who rejoined the Rays on Friday after sitting out the first two months of the season, blasted a 3-and-0 fastball from Seth Greisinger with Martinez on base for the 492nd homer of his career.

"One at a time," McGriff said. "I can't look too far ahead."

Two innings later, Martinez hit his, a leadoff shot that was the 307th of his career.

"I wasn't trying to," Martinez said, "but after I hit it I was kind of fired up."

The two have played against each other a number of times as they've wound their way through the major leagues. They homered in the same game once, on Oct. 1, 1999, when Martinez was with the Yankees and McGriff was in his first stint with the Rays.

But they had never been teammates before McGriff, 40, was brought back last week, and had never been in the same starting lineup until Monday.

"He's getting a little closer," manager Lou Piniella said. "It's good to see. I'm happy for Freddie."

McGriff, who hadn't homered since hitting two for the Dodgers on Sept. 2, said it was something of a relief to get the first one.

"It was a good feeling. The other day I didn't swing the bat well, and I had a couple days to think about it and try a few different things," McGriff said. "I've got to be aggressive. I haven't played in a while so it's a little different up there. I've got to keep fighting every day and keep going."

Martinez has no doubt he will.

"We know he can hit and all that stuff, but it was really good to get that first one out of the way, just to get one to get him going," Martinez said. "Once he gets his timing down, he'll be all right. But anything he gets right now is a bonus. It was a big homer for him and us."

It was a good Tampa day all the way around.

Piniella, the Tampa Jesuit graduate, picked up his 1,400th career win, taking over 23rd place on the all-time list.

The Rays hadn't won away from Tropicana Field since May 4, losing eight straight on their way to the worst road record in the majors (4-17). They hadn't won at the Metrodome since Aug. 19, 2001, losing their past seven. And they haven't played this well for this long in a while, winning for the eighth time in their past 11 games.

"We had a very respectable homestand, we played good ball the 12 games," Piniella said of the 7-5 mark. "We felt that would be a good sendoff, that Yankees win (Sunday). We started off the right way; let's hope it continues the next six games."

A lot of things went well.

Rob Bell pitched seven strong innings for his first win in three starts since being recalled from Durham. Trever Miller came out of the bullpen to get three huge outs in the eighth, with a hand from shortstop Julio Lugo, whose acrobatic turn of a double play had Piniella comparing him to Luis Aparicio. Charles Gipson, pinch hitting for McGriff, executed a ninth-inning bunt, and Toby Hall made it work by singling in two insurance runs.

"A very positive game all the way around," Miller said.

[Last modified June 1, 2004, 01:00:29]

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